Analysis: UNC attack shines, defense still mixed in mid-season report card

In the latest season, the North Carolina soccer team was in the national spotlight for what appeared to be the first time since coach Mac Browne’s return.

The Sam Howell era has passed and much of the hype surrounding the Tar Heel collapsed after a muddled 6-7 campaign. It looks like the program will face another test, which would challenge the Hall of Fame coach.

But then Drake May came along.

The first-year red jersey quarterback brought the hype back to North Carolina football and led UNC to a record 6-1 start to the season. Now, the 21-ranked Tar Heels sit atop the coastal division and hold a 3-0 record inside the ACC.

With five games remaining in the regular season, here’s a look at North Carolina’s attacking, defense, and coaching scores.

a crime

How good was Mai as a full-time starter?

The UNC signal caller ranks second in the country in pass landings with 24 scores and is the 10th highest nationally in both total pass yards and QBR. He is also the leading racer in North Carolina this season with 378 yards.

But it wasn’t May’s efforts alone that took North Carolina’s humiliation to new heights. Wide receivers Josh Downs and Antoine Green quietly became one of the best duos in the conference, with Downs leading the team in receiving yards and Green averaging 29.5 yards per reception. Kamari Morales and Bryson Nesbit lifted the tight final stand to lead UNC this year, as the two combined for seven touchdowns.

If there was one flaw attributed to the offense, it would be Tar Heels’ lack of a consistent hasty attack. With sophomore Caleb Hood taking the leadership role in the backfield, North Carolina could change its ground style in the coming weeks.

Grade: A-

defense

Is 40 points allowed for an App State in the fourth quarter? Or maybe Drew Payne made a pass for 289 yards and three touchdowns at the start of only his second career?

However, North Carolina’s defense underperformed Gene Chesick’s return to Chapel Hill.

Statistically, the Tar Heels stand alone at the bottom of all Power Five teams in permitted yards per competition by 476.3 yards.

But for nearly every long midfield scramble allowed or the performance of 500-yard passes, there were major plays on the defensive side, such as late interceptions against Miami and Duke.

No matter what happens in the first three and a half quarters of play, the defense always seems to be ahead in time. Throw in that UNC quarterbacks Power Echols and Cedric Gray — who are each ranked number one in the conference for singles and full tackle, respectively — and the North Carolina defense hardly gets a passing score.

Grade: C-

training

no one is perfect. But offensive coordinator Phil Longo might be the closest thing to him for the Tar Heels.
Since joining UNC in 2019, North Carolina’s offense has always finished in the top 12 in total yards per game. This consistent production has stood the test of losing outstanding talent each season.

The narrative about Longo sometimes tends to rely on negatives, whether it’s his tendency to predict runs or his scheme reliance too much on the deep ball. But now in its fourth year, with Tar Heels leading the ACC in both points and arenas for every competition, it’s time to acknowledge that the UNC staff is one of the best offensive minds in the country.

Grade: A

When Assistant Head Defense Coach Gene Chesik returned to Chapel Hill, he brought with him a “bow doesn’t break” mentality.

As expected, Chizik rarely lines up shadows in press coverage and posts blitz packages in moderation. But when the team makes four- and five-star lists and is still one of the worst units in the country, something isn’t working out.

Grade: D +

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